It’s hard to tell if the Nets are championship contenders or contenders. The truth, as head coach Steve Nash likes to say, probably lies somewhere in the middle.
When the Nets took the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks into overtime only to miss a point, they looked like undisputed contenders.
And as they sleepwalked through a disappointing 122-115 loss in Atlanta despite a career-high 55 points from Kevin Durant — a game with play-in tournament implications, a must for all intents and purposes — the Nets looked more like one Team without a company named alongside the Bucks and other teams in the Eastern Conference.
Without Goran Dragic (health and safety protocols), Bruce Brown (flu), and Seth Curry (ankle), the Nets had to play near-perfect basketball. They needed Nash to come out to Nate McMillan. They needed Kyrie Irving to play like a $140 million player. They needed Patty Mills to play like an Olympic bronze medalist. And they had to punch the Hawks in the mouth on their own floor.
None of that happened. The Nets ran no semblance of an offensive set except for Durant or Irving to get the ball and get out of the way, which doesn’t work anymore — especially with Durant — because, as he said after the loss to the Bucks, opposing defenses “know.” what it is.” The Nets played no defense, resulting in reckless fouling that put the Hawks on the line 30 times in the first half alone. They didn’t care about the ball, didn’t appear on the same side or move the ball, instead opting to run the offense solely through their two stars.
Only one of these stars appeared. Irving shot 7 of 14 from downtown but only 5 of 18 on all other shots. He missed a good look from downtown in the last minute of the game, a look that would have reduced a five-point deficit to just two. He hit one of those threesomes in the final seconds of regulation, a look that might as well be classified as a trash can.
It’s not enough. Not if the team is understaffed. Not when Mills is as stone cold as the veins of Hawks star Trae Young, who hung on the nets for 36 points and 10 assists, including a three-pointer so uncontested he had time to catch his breath and shimmy before Durant from the other side closed the court. He also stumbled Mills with less than 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter before pulling up three for the dagger that gave the Hawks a late eight-point lead.
Durant was great. He hung his third 50-point game of the season — his third 40-point game in his last four games — and set a new career high with eight three-pointers scored that night. One of those threes was one-legged over two Hawks defensemen. He accounted for more than half of the team’s total points. He shot 19 of 28 from the field, missing just two threes and two fouls.
But Durant’s size is only a patch for the Nets’ deeper troubles as they near a sudden-death situation with the play-in tournament just four games away. The Nets are flawed from the roster structure to the way they run their offense. And they count on Durant to carry the burden night after night, which is one of the reasons star players band together — to avoid having to carry the weight of an entire franchise’s championship aspirations squarely on their shoulders.
The Nets will soon be bringing back some of their absent players. Health and safety protocols only require six days of isolation for players entering, but Nash said Dragic was showing symptoms so there was a chance he was isolated for longer. Brown is battling the flu and is out until he gets better. Curry is struggling with an ongoing problem with his left ankle but is expected to work through it as long as he doesn’t feel at risk of injuring it further. The return of these players will help bring balance to a top-heavy and one-sided Nets squad.
But the networks lack chemistry. You could see it as Durant stamped his feet in frustration as he threw a pass to Nic Claxton, who jumped in a different direction as the ball floated wide. You could see it as Durant seethed in anger towards James Johnson, who missed every one of his wide-open corner threes, turning the ball a few times and being out of position a few times.
The score might have been different had Nash played Andre Drummond, who had more minutes than Claxton with eight points, 13 rebounds, two steals and a block.
In truth, Saturday’s result provided a harsh dose of reality for a team that sees itself as championship contenders.
The Nets are not championship contenders or pretenders. They’re somewhere in the middle, and that’s not good enough. And now they find themselves as the 10th seed in the Eastern Conference. If they don’t improve to seventh or eighth place by the end of the regular season, they’re just one loss away from a trip to Cancun.
https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/04/02/kevin-durants-55-point-night-in-loss-to-hawks-shows-how-flawed-these-nets-are/ Kevin Durant’s 55-point loss to Hawks shows how flawed these nets are – The Mercury News